We were all ready to go, the minivan had arrived to take us up the winding tortuous route to the top of Mt Etna. The road was truly long and winding – weaving through pale wheat coloured where the harsher grasses and deep sage green of the scrub had managed to take a toehold in the more ancient lava flows that folded and crumbled down the side of the mountain.
Parts of the rocks strewn across the landscape were vivid rust through to pale salmon pink, which show a larger iron deposit, the blacker radioactive selenium (i think he said) and bits of sand and of course pumice.
We got to the bottom where non active vents were open for people to wander in and around, just a lot of crunching of feet and disappointingly the craters had gathered rubbish that gets blown about on the wind.
Back into the van to take the ski cable car up to 2000 or so meters to walk upon lava fields and folds that are 6 years old, from the 2003 eruption. They are still measuring 300 degrees under the top protective layer and as it had rained up here the day before, the steam vent was working well. It sent a fine mist of moist heat and sulphur smell up out of the vent toward us at the crowd control barrier.
The eruption in 2003, so the guide told us, sent the smaller rocks up 1000m into the air and the sand that accompanies it 10000m into the air where it hung and rained on them in Catania for 45 days, necessitating the use of umbrellas, and carried across to Malta and Tunisia. The airport was shut for 3 months apparently.
We had gone from the 35 degrees of moist heat in the marina at sea level, to the cooler 23 degrees at the first stop and on the top of the mountain or at the 2400m mark we were all walking around with our jumpers closed tight to our chins and wishing we had gloves. You could scrape the surface of the sand and manage to make a little hollow and you could feel the moist heat of the underlying lava – warm enough to cause slight tingling like a burn waiting to happen.
The overshadowing feeling of the top of the mountain always hanging over your shoulder was incredibly grounding especially as the cold wind whistled past, vents of moist sulphurous air drifted around your legs creeping up toward the sky and the oddest sensation of having very warm feet but from the knee up, the cold was seeping in and the very barren landscape looking like a black lunarscape.
We decided to forgo the trek up into the crater itself, 3.5hr up and back and have to wear breathing apparatus and also time was against us....
So, we hit the road for a town called Savoca – my idea for which i don’t think the town came up to the expectations of the guests for the long car ride to get there.
It is another pretty Italian town that has an incredible little church, you get there by a tortuous road among hard growing vines and stunted olive trees. The odd small apple tree and of course the always present citrus. At the start of the town is the Bar Vitelli, which those among us who have seen ‘Il Patrone’ of which the boss is a big fan – hence the trip- apparently when the film ‘The Godfather’ was made, they used the cafe for a big scene in the movie.
The rest of the town is quite picturesque and we climbed to the top past houses with the old terracotta tiling on the roof and hodge podge brick laying techniques. The artwork scattered around the town, although religious in tone was extremely interesting and quite good.
The boss was telling Sarah not to pick the prickly pear fruit because of the spines so of course now, all we get are complaints from the two of them from the fact that the tiny spines are now imbedded securely in both of their hands, legs and occasionally you get a yelp from the fact that the spines have worked their way into other places...
Today, we start our trek back to home port and the end of summer. If the weather holds we should arrive in Antibes by Monday midday for the boss to fly out...